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Observations by an Attendee of the First Separate Baptist Associational Meeting in Virginia in 1771.

[Extract from a manuscript journal of Elder John Williams, giving account of the first Separate Baptist Association. In the possession of Rev. James B. Taylor, of Salem, Va.]

     Went for the Association about 18 miles (Saturday morning, May, 1771). Got to the Association about one o'clock. Brother Hargitt was then about to preach to about 1,200 souls, from 40th chapter Isa., 11 th verse ("He shall feed His flock like a shepherd; He shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.") Brother Burruss got up immediately (after) and preached from Isa., ch. 55, 3d verse ("Incline your ear and come unto Me; hear and your soul shall live; and I wil1 make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David ") with a good deal of liberty, set the Christians all afire with the love of God; Assembly praising God with a loud voice; Brother Waller exhorting till he got spent; Brethren Marshall and E. Craig both broke loose together, the Christians shouting and they speaking for the space of half an hour or more; then ceased. Intermission for about one hour, then the delegates associated themselves together; a moderator chosen, which was Brother Harriss; clerk nominated, which was Brother Waller. Then the letters from several churches were read. Then concluded for that night. . . .

     Sunday Morning: . . . Went to the meeting- house; Brother William Webber was about to preach from Second Tim., 2d ch., last clause of 19th verse ("The Lord knoweth them that are His"); Brother Walker preached immediately (after) from 5th Micah, 5th verse ("For now shall He be great unto the ends of the earth; and this man shall be the peace.") Brother Lewis Craig exhorted. Brother Harriss preached from 5th Isa., 5th verse ("And, now go to; I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up; and break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down.") Brother Lewis (Craig) exhorted. Brother William Marshall preached from 14th chapter First Epistle to Corinthians. Present that day (supposed to be) 4,000 or 5,000 souls. . . .

     Monday Morning: Monday fast-day among us. The brethren delegates met at the meeting-house by three hours b' sun. Brother Lewis Craig opened Association by divine service. Brother Harriss gave the delegates a very warm and melting exhortation. Then proceeded to business. We went on very well about one hour and a half, then a dark cloud seemed to overshadow us concerning a plan, Brother Walker for independency and great part of the brethren against it. . . . Sermons preached that day: Brother Lewis Craig preached first from 8th chapter Romans, last clause 38th verse, &c., ("For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities," &c.); Brother John Young preached from 14th chapter John, 6th verse ("I am the way, the truth and the life"); Brother Nathaniel Saunders, 3d chapter John's first Epistle, 13th verse ("Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you"); Brother Reuben Picket from Isa., 66th, 15th verse ("For behold the Lord will come with fire, and with his chariots like whirlwind," &c.) About 1,000 people to hear preaching that day.

      Met the delegates about three hours b' sun, and after divine service proceeded to business. Went on very smooth and brotherly for about two hours, then there raised a dreadful contention among us concerning church covenants. However, we got over it, I hope, to the mind of God. Went on then very calmly for awhile; came a petition from out of doors that there was a great company of people - 500, I suppose - that came to hear preaching. Brother Lovell and myself were set apart by the Association to preach. We went. I preached first, from fifteenth of John, second verse: "Every branch in Me that beareth not fruit he taketh away, and every branch that beareth fruit he purgeth it that it may bring forth more fruit." Brother Lovell preached from sixteenth Revelation, last clause of ninth verse: "And they repented not to give Him glory." A good deal of exercise among the people.

     Intermission about fifteen minutes. Brother Burrus then set apart and preached to the people, from tenth Numbers, the last part of twenty-ninth verse: "Come thou with us and we will do thee good, for the Lord hath spoken good concerning Israel."

     Intermission for half an hour. Then Brother Joseph Craig preached to the people, from twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew, last verse: "And these shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal." . . . Brother Bartlett Bennett exhorted and concluded meeting.

     But to return: I went to the Association after I preached, and oh, what appeared a dismal, gloomy sight - the Association breaking to pieces concerning the Sabbath! Great arguments. At last Brother Walker declared no fellowship with Brother Harriss and Brother Chiles. After long debating, they referred the query till the next Association. Then I thought we had gotten over our difficulties, but what appeared dreadful, shocking - query concerning preachers getting license - a dreadful contention about it, and once I thought that every one that had obtained license would absolutely be censured. But the majority was in our favor. After a great debate we agreed to refer it to the next Association . . . . I begged a dismission, which I obtained with a good deal of difficulty, took my leave of the brethren, and pushed for home.


[From Robert B. Semple, History of the Baptists in Virginia, 1810, revised 1894; reprint, 1976, pp. 489-492. The title has been supplied for this document. Formatted and Scanned by Jim Duvall]

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